Making science fun

Making science fun

Students volunteer to teach elementary school students science, health

 By Allyson Fox

A SHIP volunteer works with students at Lake Forest Elementary.

When Mona Sayedul Huq walked into Terwilliger Elementary, fifth-graders greeted her with hugs and jumped with excitement, eager to hear what she had to say.

But Sayedul Huq didn’t have candy, the coolest new video game or a funny costume. Instead, Sayedul Huq, an executive board member for UF’s School Health Interdisciplinary Program, was armed with a rubber band, two water bottles and paper.

She and a group of student volunteers were about to teach a science lesson.

One day a week, SHIP volunteers go to four elementary schools in Gainesville and teach science, nutrition and the importance of physical activity to fourth- and fifth-graders. The program started as a pediatric advocacy rotation with teams led by members of the College of Medicine’s Family Data Center. Now, participation is open to anyone, including undergraduate and graduate students. The goal is to increase FCAT scores and combat childhood obesity, which is a huge problem today, said Lyndsey Van Der Laan, a coordinator for the program.

After greeting the volunteers, students returned to their desks and were ready to hear a lesson on energy. Volunteers flung a rubber band across the room to show kinetic versus potential energy, asked students to make windmills to demonstrate wind energy, compared foods to determine which had the most energy, and showed a balloon filling up in the sun over a black water bottle to show absorbent energy.

Interactive forms of science reinforce what students learn in schools, Van Der Laan said. The goal is to teach complicated concepts in a fun way.

Volunteers held up three cards: one with peanuts, one with lettuce and one with grape juice.

They asked the class, “Which one of these foods contains the most energy?”

“Peanuts!” a student answered.

“Why?” asked the volunteers.

After some educated guesses from students, the SHIP volunteers explained peanuts contain the most energy because they are proteins.

“We see a difference in enthusiasm when it comes to science and math topics,” Van Der Laan said.

During the last part of the lesson, students usually go outside to run around and play a game, such as kickball.

Sayedul Huq said childhood obesity rates are high, and she hopes these lessons help children be the best they can be.

“If they don’t set these habits right now, when they get older, they tend to be lazy,” she said.

Jennifer Breman, a guidance counselor for Terwilliger Elementary, said the fifth-graders love college-age kids.

“They look up to the people who work with them,” Breman said. “It gives them some hands-on experience to prepare for the science FCAT.”

The children feel like they can relate to the SHIP volunteers, she added.

“They look forward to seeing the same people week after week,” Breman said. “It’s good for everybody.”

But teaching fourth- and fifth-graders does not come without challenges.

Sometimes teaching can be challenging when the children act up, but students get the opportunity to mentor and influence children in a positive way, Van Der Laan said.

“Going to the schools is a treat,” she added. “You build relationships with these kids to the point where they want to see you.”